Are company reports worth the websites they’re printed on?

How well are annual reports received online? Here’s a quick anecdote.

A colleague and I recently visited a large investment management client to discuss the next steps regarding their digital presence, which, over the last 12 months or so, has been rejuvenated under our guidance and service.

During the meeting, we started to discuss company reports. The client had just appointed a new design company for their reports and were planning their 2015/2016 publication, which when completed, they wanted us to add to their website.

Anticipating this conversation, we came to the meeting armed with data Investis had collated earlier in the year from its 2000 website clients, on the traffic volumes of annual report views on a corporate website. We asked for our client representatives’ thoughts on the percentage of total traffic on the website, was attributed to viewing the annual report. “Twenty percent” said one. “Fifty percent” said the other.

The actual percentage of online report views versus the total website traffic was just two percent.

I haven’t been in many business meetings where there have been audible gasps, yet both client representatives did so simultaneously. I asked why that stat shocked them so much. “Because the annual reports cost us a small fortune – more than we pay for our website!”

A typical FTSE 100 company, with a large number of retail investors, can expect to pay between £150k to £250k for the design, print and electronic copy of their report. Even small companies, with very few shareholders, will spend around £10 to £20k. That cost is every year, and doesn’t include half year results or other corporate reports published through the year.

If we view this scenario as typical, companies are spending significantly more money on a report physically distributed once a year and getting minimal visibility online, than their website, which is available publicly twenty four hours a day and is the sole online representation of their business.

 That’s not to say reports of this nature are overpriced. Good design and copywriting should not be undervalued, and printing physical copies is costly. What is staggering is that given the time and money that goes into planning and creating a report that resource is generally not afforded to using this resource on a company’s website.

GE 2014 Annual Report   CEO Letter

GE use their Annual Report content dynamically on their website

The annual reports I’ve seen recently contained visually exciting images on company success, clear text explaining the strategic direction and engaging infographics breaking down financial information in simple ways. In comparison, the design of most company websites is only updated every few years, with content not having a consistent, strategic plan to promote the desired actions of its visitors.

Though surprising to me, the great digitally focused minds at Investis have been considering this for some time. We’ve developed some practical solutions to get the most out of information in annual reports, so it is more accessible on the company website, increasing readership considerably and the accessibility of key information. We are also working with our clients to utilise other digital platforms to share key information, such as Twitter (Goldman Sachs used Twitter and their website as their main platform for releasing their Q3 earnings report). This trend will grow in the coming years.

With strategic, focused, business orientated planning, and with a bit of our digital know-how, the expensive content within an annual report can be used across the digital landscape to promote more investment, rather than stakeholder gasps.

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